Developing Leadership Skills through Games
By Paul Bonea
Leadership games, activities and other team building efforts can be a great way to build relationships between students. Not only that, but they’re also good opportunities for students to experience real, goal-oriented teamwork, navigate social relationships in “high-stakes” situations, negotiate social power and more.
The real challenge to leadership games is to keep them light and fun, and prevent them from becoming another “forced activity” they have to do at school.
To this end, it’s best to keep these activities and games short, and not to ask students to overshare details about their private life.
Below is a list of 7 quick and easy leadership games, that can be played with very few resources, little setup but guaranteed to be fun and educational.
Leadership activities and games
The cup stacking game
What you will need: plastic cups, strings, rubber bands.
How it works: Divide students into groups of 4 or 5. Then, attach 4-5 strings on each rubber band.
Students can then pull on the strings to widen the rubber band, or relax the strings to tighten it.
After that, give each group 4-5 cups (or more if you want), and ask them to build a tower, or simply stack the cups one inside the other.
The catch is, the students have to handle the cups by using only the rubber band, and by tightening or relaxing it with their strings.
This mini game requires the cooperation of the entire group in order to successfully pull the string, grab the cup, and then place it. In most groups, leaders will discretely emerge as they direct efforts and coordinate the tightening and relaxing of strings, as well as the moving of the cups.
And because the core mechanic is so simple, the game can be easily adjusted to suit every particular need.
Zoom by Istvan
Zoom by Istvan Banyai is an illustration book, where each drawing is contained by the next one, sort of like Matrioshka dolls.
Either buy the book (it is 7$ on Amazon) or simply all 28 pages by going at the link here.
Then, distribute the pages among the class and ask them to arrange the drawings so that the story makes sense.
Leaders will manifest themselves and quietly organize and direct the efforts to find each page, and its correct location in the sequence.
Navigating the mine fields
A game that places an emphasis on trust and communication, and can be played outdoors or indoors.
The game works by organizing students into pairs, with one student being blindfolded while the other helps him navigate through an obstacle course.
The exact location doesn’t really matter, so long as you have enough space to fit all of the students. If you choose to play the game indoors, then you can take advantage of existing furniture by turning it into obstacles that have to be avoided. If you choose to play outside, you can sprinkle various objects such as balls, bowling pins, cones to act as mines.
This is the basic setup of the game, and it can be adapted according to your needs. For instance, you can choose how much time the pairs have to establish commands, the penalty for hitting an obstacle (points or restarting the course), whether it is a competition with other pairs, how many objects to introduce etc.
Ideally, you’ll want to make sure you have at least two rounds per pair, so that each member has a chance at navigating and walking through the minefield.
The floating stick
A surprisingly simple activity, that requires members of a group to be in tune with one another, and learn how to coordinate properly.
To start, all you need is a very light rod or stick. Then, organize the team members into two rows, each facing one another. Ask the students to hold out their hands, with their index fingers stretched out. After that, place the rod or stick on the index fingers and ask the students to lower it to the ground.
The whole setup should look like this:
A very important rule is that everybody’s index finger must at all times be in contact with the stick. If someone’s not touching the stick, then the organizer asks the group to go back up and reset their progress.
While the exercise sounds simple, it requires coordination because some students might lower the stick more than others, which can cause the stick to slide away, followed by frantic efforts to bring it back up (hence the “floating” part of the game).
Escape rooms are a new trend that have spread like wildfire in the past decade. The concept is pretty simple: lock people up in a room and have them solve puzzles in order to escape.
Escape rooms are great leadership games, because they come with many puzzles and offer ample opportunities to students with initiative to organize and delegate tasks. However, because of how many puzzles a typical escape room has, a group will usually alternate between multiple leaders in the same session.
This alternating leadership happens when one person figures out the puzzles, and then asks the others to help out. However, when a new puzzle comes up, someone else might figure out how it works and assume the leadership mantle.
The only major disadvantage to escape rooms is the price. Admission can vary from $20 to $30 per person, multiply that by 20 or 30, and you’ll have the most cost prohibitive activity on this list.
However, the upside to larger groups is better negotiating power. Coupled with any student discounts and the price can conceivably go down to $15 per student.
Spot the Secret Leader
A simple game that doesn’t require anything more than a group of 6-7 people.
The setup is straightforward: first, arrange the students in a circle at arms-length from one another. After this, choose a student to go in the middle of the circle and act as a Spotter.
Ask the Spotter to close his eyes, while the rest of the group chooses a Secret Leader.
The Secret Leader must then subtly make gestures and motions the other members of the group must imitate, such as raising an arm, leaning on a leg, dancing etc.
During this time, the Spotter has 3 different tries to figure out who is the Secret Leader. If the Spotter fails all 3 times, then the Secret Leader wins. Regardless of who wins, the Spotter chooses who to replace them in the middle.
To better encourage teamwork and leadership initiative, you can go for more complex variations. For instance, the group can talk amongst themselves and strategize how to hide the Secret Leader, whether to move around the room, etc.
The Marshmallow Challenge
This is a team building activity that works for almost any age category, from kindergarten children, to college graduates, CEO’s and other high-ranking business chiefs.
It requires cheap, everyday materials: 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string and a marshmallow. Teams are then given a 5-minute introduction and 18-minute build time. Teams should be no bigger than five people.
The challenge is simple: build the tallest structure that can sustain the marshmallow on top.
After they finish the game, show students this www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0_yKBitO8M“>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0_yKBitO8M“>video so they can better understand the crucial lesson of the marshmallow challenge: that the iterative process is one of the best ways to approach a problem.
The Marshmallow challenge fosters collaboration between participants, and also encourages them to explore different ways to build the structure.
About the Author
Paul Bonea is the author behind Hasty Reader, a book and self-improvement blog where he seeks the most useful information a reader can use in his life journey.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum